Ali A. Al-Meshari, Fahad I. Muhaish, and Ahmed A. Aleidan, Saudi Aramco
Many industries are doing their fair share to address climate change and combat greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For the oil and gas industry, meeting global and domestic energy demands while addressing climate change presents numerous challenges but also opportunities. With the unprecedented level of international attention on climate change in recent years, Saudi Aramco is keen to play a leading role in addressing the main issues.
Technological solutions, such as advanced and highly efficient hydrocarbon technologies and carbon capture and storage (CCS), are key elements to addressing climate change rather than aiming at dispensing of fossil fuels in a world of global interdependence. Almost all scenarios indicate that the world will continue to depend on hydrocarbon-based energy sources for the foreseeable future. It is therefore prudent to adopt collaborative hydrocarbon research and develop solutions for CO2 geological sequestration, subsurface utilization of CO2, cost reduction for CO2 capture from fixed sources, and explore new technologies to increase efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions from mobile sources.
Saudi Aramco has already shown its commitment to developing leading technologies to aid in the reduction of CO2 emissions through many programs, such as energy efficiency, energy conservation, and flare reduction, and is well engaged in carbon management and its mitigation efforts related to fossil fuels. A Carbon Management Steering Committee coordinates the carbon management strategy and implements a road map aimed at finding technological solutions to reduce CO2 emissions. The carbon management technology road map consists of five challenge-driven focus areas: stationary carbon management, mobile carbon management, CO2 industrial applications, CO2 storage, and CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The research is being conducted in an integrated fashion to support the company’s efforts with a clear long-term target in each area.
Stationary sources and the transportation sector, for example, contribute to the majority of GHG emissions, mainly CO2, while other gases, such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and/or hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), are considered relatively small. Stationary sources account for more than 60% of CO2 emissions, necessitating the development of CO2 capture technologies relevant to the company’s business needs for stationary applications. The target is to reduce CO2 emissions from oil facilities by implementing new technologies that use heavy residues, which is aligned with the cost reduction of CO2 capture technologies and contributes to the global CO2 reduction efforts. The transportation sector accounts for about 25% of CO2 emissions. Future transportation solutions are being shaped by a number of different issues, including climate change and environmental concerns, energy security, control of harmful emissions, and affordability. Although this means that alternatives, such as electrically powered vehicles or biofueled engines, are receiving increased attention, significant efforts are also being devoted to improve the efficiency of today’s internal combustion engines, while keeping them affordable and clean. It is generally accepted that, for the foreseeable future, the internal combustion engines fueled by petroleum-based products will continue to dominate the transportation sector as the use of alternatives continues to grow. Nonetheless, in the pursuit of more efficient and cleaner-burning engines, the requirements placed on fuels and their combustion characteristics will continue to evolve.
Saudi Aramco is executing a research portfolio that aims at promoting the responsible use of petroleum resources by optimizing both the fuel and the engine in an integrated fashion. This will not only lead to efficient and clean fuel/engine systems, but also present a pathway to address the expected shift in global energy demand toward heavier distillates in the future. This is done by using lighter distillates (such as naphtha) in these advanced engines, where the plans are under way to take the concept from the research engine to actual vehicles, and then to a broader fleet demonstration. On another front, improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions from modern gasoline engines, using new fuel formulations, have been demonstrated. Results show that up to 4% fuel economy benefit could be attributed solely from new fuel formulation.
In a world first, collaborative research has been carried out to develop and test a CO2 capturing system onboard a vehicle. As a result, two prototype vehicles, a large size pickup truck and a passenger vehicle, demonstrated the viability of capturing and storing CO2 emissions onboard. It marks an innovative leap in the right direction for the reduction of emissions of CO2 from mobile sources. The results show that early prototype vehicles can capture an average of 10% of emitted CO2 from the large pickup truck and an average of 25% from the passenger vehicle.
In the CO2 industrial applications focus area, the goal is to develop new technologies that meet a long-term goal of creating value from the carbon cycle for industrial applications or others. The development of CO2 conversion options includes photochemical, biological, photo electrochemical, and hydrogenation routes.
For CO2 geological storage, the efforts are focused on storing CO2 during EOR, as a utilization option, and on storing CO2 in saline aquifers. The research in CO2 EOR for storage has developed into a multiwell demonstration project steered by a multidisciplinary team in the company. While Saudi Aramco will not require EOR methods for decades to come, this project has been pursued chiefly to show the feasibility for CO2 EOR to be recognized as a mechanism for CO2 sequestration. For the project, CO2 will be captured from an anthropogenic source in large quantities and piped to the injection site. The project provided the company with the grounds to test innovative CO2 monitoring and surveillance techniques to map and measure injected CO2, making the project a platform for knowledge sharing, planning, and road mapping. As a result, the project has been granted an international scientific recognition by the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, a ministerial-level international climate change initiative focused on the development of improved cost-effective technologies for the separation and capture of carbon dioxide for its transport and long-term safe storage.
The research on CO2 storage in nonhydrocarbon-bearing geological formations has been focused on assessing the country’s capacity to sequester CO2 in saline aquifers by identifying the available dry structures. The objectives of this study are to review the criteria for the screening and selection of CO2 storage sites, such as the injection ability, storage capacity, sealing integrity, and risks and economics.
These technological strides in the capture, sequestration, and utilization of CO2 are at the core of Saudi Aramco’s efforts, driving forward a research program that combines national development and international collaboration.
Partnership with national and international key players is a main mechanism for advancing the carbon management road map.
In support of the carbon management research programs, long-term partnerships and collaborations have been established with leading universities, research organizations, and companies throughout the world. This was done by establishing local and international research and development satellite centers in strategic locations.
Locally and in addition to in-house research, a 10-year research program was launched on hydrocarbon fuel combustion for transportation engines with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Another example is sponsoring a professor chair for CO2 capture and utilization at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), while serving as members on the science committee at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology–Technology Innovation Center on Carbon Capture and Sequestration
Internationally, three satellite centers have been launched this year:
- Saudi Aramco–Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology CO2 Management Center—Daejeon: A joint research to create new knowledge and develop innovative technologies addressing carbon emissions, including CO2 capture, storage, and utilization, and efficiency improvements that reduce CO2 emissions.
- Saudi Aramco Fuel Research Center—Paris: It focuses on demonstrating more efficient combustion engines using modified petroleum formulations and accelerate readying various fuel/engine matching technologies.
- Saudi Aramco Mobility Center—Detroit: A platform for demonstrations, deployment, and engagement with United States automakers to develop practical technology solutions that reduce the carbon emissions from mobile sources with a minimum impact on vehicle performance.
The goal for Saudi Aramco, and Saudi Arabia, is to preserve the environment while providing sustainable energy to the world and meeting global demand. It is believed that the mitigation efforts of CO2 emissions should be driven by technology and should minimize the impact on the world economy. Therefore, Saudi Aramco’s approach has been focused on the development and application of technologies that will help reduce CO2 emissions through a multifaceted technology road map with challenge-driven focus areas. The research programs in each focus area combine national development and regional and international collaborations. These ongoing efforts led to a large scale CO2 EOR demonstration project to sequester anthropogenic CO2 and two prototype vehicles with onboard CO2 capturing systems.
Ali A. Al-Meshari is a carbon capture and sequestration consultant with the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources in Saudi Arabia and is the overall coordinator for carbon management in Saudi Aramco. Al-Meshari has worked in many technical and managerial positions in Saudi Aramco including chief technologist for its reservoir engineering technology team and chief technologist for the Strategic Technology Analysis Division at the EXPEC Advanced Research Center. He has chaired and cochaired several SPE symposia and conferences and has been a technical editor for the SPE Reservoir Evaluation and Engineering journal.
Ahmed A. Aleidan is a certified petroleum engineer and has worked in various petroleum engineering departments at Saudi Aramco including production engineering, offshore and onshore producing, reservoir management, and the EXPEC Advanced Research Center. Currently, he is a researcher at the EXPEC center responsible for increasing oil recovery through innovative enhanced oil recovery methods. He is also the upstream coordinator for the corporate carbon management team in Saudi Aramco. He has served as a technical editor for SPE Reservoir Evaluation and Engineering journal and for The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering.
Fahad I. Al-Muhaish leads Saudi Aramco’s mobile carbon management team in the Carbon Management Division in the Research and Development Center. He holds three patents and has contributed to several technical publications and international conferences.